I have heard it said that "a mother knows."
I have a clear and profound memory of watching my mother cut apples for a pie as a child. I stood, entangled in her dress, mesmerized. holding the apple in her left hand, she used what seemed a dangerously sharp knife to slice bits into a bowl. sword wielder, she! what magic! I thought, in awe of her wound-free hands. how was this possible? she moved so quickly, knowing. she slipped me a slice, knowing. her legs were strong and firmly planted, knowing. she winked at me, knowing.
I came to my own knowledge less effortlessly. I limped into awareness, desperately clinging to my oblivion.
when I told him about the baby, I recall my body tightening. I can remember standing in front of him and saying quite calmly, "it's ok if you don't want to do this." his aversion to having children well-documented, I was prepared for the possibility that he'd pack his bags that second and bolt for the door. I was encouraged by his wanting to call his sister and share the news.
despite his protestations, I always believed he had within himself a soul suited to fatherhood. his own father was a hard, Navy man. Bobby had been a Vietnam vet, a machinist, and, in his worst moments, an abuser. this had confused my love as a child and plagued him as a man. in contrast, he was gentle handed, playful, sweet, and carefree. he loved a laughing fit and had sparkling eyes that pierced to my core. he was a lover of life and, quite deeply, of me. his unwillingness to add father to his credentials seemed to come from a fear of what he'd become. as if Bobby was lurking deep down in the creases of his spirit, watching and waiting to pounce. as if a child would unleash this monster within. I hoped instead it would release a dormant moonbeam, radiating warm vibrations through his fingertips and opening paths to renewal. perhaps we choose which truth we will manifest.
as we told his sister the news, I remember him pouring shots of whiskey. we New Orleans folk stay well lubricated, but his drinking was different. it was a mission. a steam engine with no brakes plowing through towns and leaving rubble in its wake. his drinking had caused us a great deal of strife in the past and I, like many women before me, hid a secret sorrow from friends, family, and chiefly myself. I rationalized the late nights and erratic lifestyle. I embraced my solitude, reading books and daydreaming with abandon. I'd write in my journals and lunch with friends. I watched cheesy romantic comedies and played dress up like a school girl. I grew to expect the distance and separate journeys. it kept a bit of excitement in the reunited moments, and I never doubted his fidelity. besides, he could always stop if he wanted to, he'd remind me. I would sit after he left for the bar some nights wondering when I'd muster the courage to ask why he didn't want to? the shots flowed freely that evening. I lost count after seven as we hung up with Sissy.
the first week was a blur of a bender. alcohol can poison the mind. vitriol poured out of his mouth as liquor poured in. how could I have changed so irrevocably the landscape of our lives? didn't I see the damage I had done? "it's ok if you don't want to do this," I would say meekly, accepting and piling the blame onto my steadily growing weight. I could feel my body tense again as I prepped for the inevitable. I was certain he'd be leaving. I had, many times over the years, resigned myself to the knowledge that our love story would be full of bumps and struggles. I love him fiercely. our good times were passionately, hysterically, wildly good, and I felt proud to be his woman. our sweet moments floored me, and the overwhelming power of my love for him brought me again and again to my knees. I built an altar for the man in my heart and prayed at it daily. as I had done so many times, I convinced myself that this would pass. I clung to the notion that, with time, his fear would subside. our love would overpower his doubt. our child would replenish us.
in the weeks that followed, he sought balance. in his routine, benders lead to sadness and apologies which leads to soul-searching and calls to the heavens for help to stay sober before the confidence returns and cockiness takes over, driving him out of my arms and our home, and back into the smokey night. "it's ok if you don't want to do this," I'd remind him, my body tight, silently begging him to snap out of it. desperate he'd hear my mental pleas for peace and calm. hopeful he'd tame that Bobby beast and the self-doubt that possessed him. eager for the father he could be to swoop in like a Pegasus, majestic and proud. the wishing was my routine. wishing it would be over, wishing it was the last time, wishing my doubt away.
that first month of motherhood - my first weeks aware of the precious jewel growing inside me - was eerily similar to the years that preceded it. the first month was much like the remaining months of pregnancy. that first month was exactly like the first month with my darling girl earth side. that first month was like the first six months as a fragile family, until finally I stopped telling him, "it's ok if you don't want to do this." instead, I told myself, and my tight, aching body released.
I do not wish to demonize my daughter's father nor do I fault him for an addiction beyond his control, but a mother just knows. the shift from one to two was instantaneous. honoring that truth took time and sacrifice.
I look back on my mother cutting apples in the kitchen. she didn't have a superpower or ninja-like skill. she, mother, mama, mommy.. she had a job to do and she did it precisely, carefully, smoothly, with her child looking on enraptured. I hope to be that for my daughter. I hope she looks at me and sees not my faltering steps out the door. I hope she doesn't hear my crying in the bathroom or sense my longing to be held. I hope she feels the softness of my legs as she wraps herself around them, clinging to my skirt, hungry for my attention, watchful of my actions. I hope she remembers ease and comfort and closeness.
like alcohol, motherhood changes a person. motherhood emboldened me to be the best version of myself. motherhood doubled my focus and narrowed my gaze. motherhood makes the other times seem less than. motherhood is the best party with the best people, and it goes from dusk til dawn. like him, I don't want to stop. I love this life I'm living. I choose it. I am mother to a magical, observant, investigative, joyful girl child, and blessed to be. the universe has provided me with a soul to nurture and guide and adore with all my might. my purpose has been defined, and I am reborn. I don't know much, but I do know that.
featured in Mama, Bare.